The Gospel of Winter

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Gospel of Winter Book Poster Image
Powerful book about victims of priest sexual abuse.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the real-life priest sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. This fictional account will invite them to consider why a victim might have wanted to keep quiet -- and why other members of his community might encourage this. 

Positive Messages

Keeping a secret can be dangerous and can affect your psychology -- and other people. Even if you're a victim, you must support the people he cares about. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aiden drinks, takes drugs, and pressures other boys to be quiet about being victims of abuse. But he becomes stronger and is able to confront the head priest and stand by his friend. 

Violence

Readers will understand that Father Greg is sexually abusing Aiden, but the descriptions are more impressionistic than detailed. Also, boys at a party take pictures of themselves hazing another boy who's passed out. Aiden gets punched in the face during a fistfight.  

Sex

Boys and girls kiss one another while passing pot smoke back and forth. Aiden grips his passed-out friend's private parts to see if he's attracted to him. Aiden makes out with his new girlfriend, but one time, when things move further, he hurts her and she must force him off of her. 

Language

Lots of uses of "f--k" and "f--king," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "damn," plus uses of "faggot," "ass," and more. 

Consumerism

Mentions of a few car makes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens, including the protagonist, drink until they're drunk, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, take pills, and snort Adderall. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Gospel of Winter tells about a teen boy who's molested by his local priest. Readers will learn about the real-life sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s through this fictional account, which also suggests why a victim might have wanted to keep quiet -- and why other members of his community might encourage this silence. Acts of sexual abuse are described more as impressions rather than in detail. There's other mature material, too: Teens, including the protagonist, drink until they get drunk, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, take pills, and snort Adderall. Also, they swear a lot ("f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "damn," plus "faggot" and "ass"). There's a lot of kissing among boys and girls passing pot smoke back and forth. Boys at a party take pictures of themselves hazing another boy who's passed out, and Aiden gets punched in the face while trying to stop them. Aiden grips his passed-out friend's private parts to see if there's an attraction. Later, he gets too rough when making out with his girlfriend, hurting her; she must force him off of her. Aiden initially pressures other abuse victims to keep quiet, but he's ultimately able to confront the head priest and learns that, even though he's a victim, he must support the people he cares about. 

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What's the story?

Wealthy misfit Aiden's father has just left the family, and the lonely boy loves working with charming Father Greg, with whom he can talk about his problems. But when Father Greg takes an interest in a younger boy, Aiden feels pushed aside and has a breakdown; readers will understand that the priest has abused him. Aiden soon learns that he's not the only victim, but he keeps quiet and even pressures the other boys to do the same ("What happened between Father Greg and me? Nothing. If nobody knew about it, then it never happened. It didn't exist. It couldn't"). But when news stories begin to break about the priest sexual abuse scandals -- and the cover-up -- the secret becomes even harder for Aiden to hold on to.

Is it any good?

THE GOSPEL OF WINTER sensitively examines a painful subject without overwhelming readers in descriptive details. Through Aiden's well-told story, which unfolds over the course of an icy winter, the author convincingly conveys the complex feelings going on inside the protagonist and many other confused characters from his wealthy Catholic community. Readers may not always agree with Aiden's choices, but they'll understand his feelings of shame at what's happened to him and why he wants to pretend the abuse never happened; readers also will begin to understand why so many people might have been willing to participate in a cover-up, even people who loved the victims. This is a difficult story but an important one; not only can it help remove the stigma and secrecy that often surround sexual abuse, but it can help teens consider a more universal theme of, "Are you the kind of person who's there for people when they need you, or are you not?"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sexual abuse. Why do you think Aiden denies what happened to him -- and to the other boys? 

  • Can you think of any other books or movies that deal with this tough topic? How might a novel like this be helpful?

  • The Gospel of Winter takes place in the early 2000s. What do you think eventually happens to Aiden, Mark, and the other characters?

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